Ask anyone who has owned a hobby farm for a while what their best piece of advice is for new or potential farm owners, and odds are that piece of advice will involve tractors. It might be because a tractor can be the single most important piece of farm equipment you’ll bring home, but it’s also the most difficult to choose.
When we first bought our hobby farm, I received three pieces of advice about buying a tractor.
The first piece of advice is that you shouldn’t buy a tractor at the same time as you buy your farm. It’s a good idea to have a lay of the land and know what you’ll use the tractor for before you buy one. This is difficult to do that unless you’ve lived there for a while.
The second piece of advice came from a tractor salesman, and that was to go big or go home. In general terms, we have small tractors, mid-size tractors and very large tractors. Choosing one step up from what you think you need is always a good idea. That means choosing a tractor with the most amount of horsepower your budget will allow, because you’ll never wish you had picked a tractor with less power.
The third piece of advice was by far the most important: A tractor isn’t going to be as useful as you need it to be unless you have the right attachments.
The problem people have with tractor attachments is that it’s difficult to know which you’ll use the most and which you won’t. The line between splurge and smart investment depends entirely on what your property is like, what you need to do on that property and how often you’ll need to perform that task.
The good news is that you can get a general idea of whether a specific tractor attachment is for you just by knowing what they are and what jobs they can take on.
Let’s imagine you’ve bought a brand-new tractor from the dealership. The tractor itself has no attachments on it at all, so nothing is on the front or back of the machine when you bring it home. You’ll have a good time driving it around your property, but to be useful at all, your tractor needs a few must-have attachments.
You can’t have a tractor without a tractor loader bucket. A loader bucket is a square bucket that attaches to the front of the tractor. You can use a loader bucket to scoop dirt, backfill, move gravel, and if you’re skilled at handling your tractor, digging. The size of your tracker loader bucket can vary so you’ll want to ask your dealership which is right for your farm.
Tooth Bar Bucket Extender
A tractor bucket is mostly limited to scooping and moving dirt, gravel or snow, but you can get more out of your bucket when you add a tooth bar attachment. A tooth bar is an extension you place on the edge of your bucket, essentially adding a row of “teeth” that can dig into hard dirt, flip rocks out of your way or get underneath a bed of clay.
A tooth bar is the tractor attachment I never knew I always wanted, and it’s an indispensable addition if you plan on using your bucket for multiple jobs on the farm.
Pallet forks don’t look like much, but you’ll soon realize how many jobs you can take on using them. Available in different weight ranges, pallet forks attach to the front of your tractor and let you slide under objects to lift them.
Need to move 1,000-pound round bales of hay? No problem—you can take the hay off your trailer or truck with ease using pallet forks. Want to move your chicken coop or another small structure? Slide your pallet forks underneath, and you’ll be moving your chicken to a new location in no time.
Pallet forks are adjustable so you can move the forks close together or further apart as needed. When shopping for pallet forks be sure to choose one designed for your specific tractor and with the length and weight range required for what you’d like to move.
If you have a few or more acres of grass to mow, you’ve probably realized it’s not something you can take on with a ride-on or walk-behind lawnmower. Left to grow without mowing, tall grass and weeds can prevent you from fully utilizing your land.
A tractor mower deck is an indispensable attachment on farms with large fields. It attaches to the back of your tractor and can cut several acres of grass in a few hours.
There are two main types of tractor mowers—a brush hog and a finish mower. A brush hog mower is the most popular mowing attachment because it can cut through tall grass, small trees, shrubs or other dense foliage such as blackberry bushes. When it cuts it mulches the grass and leaves it on the ground underneath the mower.
If you’d like a landscaped appearance in your fields complete with lush grass and perfectly manicured lines, a finish mower gives your tractor a lighter touch. Just keep in mind that a finish mower attachment doesn’t have the power to cut through dense areas or brush.
A trailer hitch is a useful tractor attachment because it lets you use your tractor for pulling. It’s easy to pop on and off, and you can do everything from connect to a trailer to haul hay through your field or use your tractor and a tow rope to pull a neighbor out of a snowbank.
The Splurge List
Some tractor attachments can save you a ton of time while doing bi-yearly jobs, but they are considered a bit of a splurge because you won’t use them every day.
A post-hole auger is a tractor attachment that digs holes. It attaches to the back of your tractor and, depending on the model, ranges in size from 4 inches up to 18 inches. It looks a lot like a big drill bit, and it’s incredibly useful for drilling holes for fence posts or trees. Having a post-hole auger will save you from doing a lot of manual labor, but if you’re not continually putting up fences or planting trees, it may be something you only use occasionally.
Snow Blower & Blade
If you live in a colder climate and routinely get several feet of snow in your yard, your back probably starts to ache the second you see the first flake fall. Shoveling snow can be a body-breaking job, so a snow blower or snow blade attachment can be a worthwhile splurge for your tractor.
A snow blower attachment works just like a walk-behind snow blower in that it will blow snow out of your pathway and make it easy to clear a driveway. Snow blowers can churn up ice chunks too. If you just want to push snow out of the way and you don’t mind making a pile or hill, a snow blade will be a helping hand. It simply pushes snow out of the way so you can clear a path where you need to.
If you plan on seeding or fertilizing your fields every year, a broadcast spreader will be something you’ll grow to depend on. Depending on your make and model of tractor, you can find rotary spreaders that connect to the back of your tractor and spread seeds, fertilizer or anything else you’d like to add to your fields.
Most types will offer different spread patterns so you can choose the best spread for seeding, over-seeding or fertilizing.
A backhoe attachment connects to the back of your tractor. It can be taken off and on whenever you need it, and it has its own seat and controls for the backhoe arm. When you use it, you’ll park your tractor in one location and use the backhoe arm to scoop rocks, dig deep into the earth, or move debris around your yard. If you’d like to build a small pond on your property, a backhoe attachment will be very useful. You can keep moving the tractor to new locations and keep digging until you’ve reached the right depth, and it’s a great tool for dredging shallow ponds or ripping out thorny bushes.
A backhoe attachment will be one of the biggest splurges you can buy for your tractor. Depending on your tractor size and type, they can run you between $10,000 to $20,000 for the attachment alone. That’s a significant investment for something you might only use occasionally, but they are also incredibly useful attachments.
Every hobby farmer has different priorities, but if you use this list of tractor attachment must-haves and splurges before you shop you’ll save money, avoid any buyer’s remorse, and really enjoy the attachments you do bring home.
Having a tiller on your tractor means you can turn the dirt in your fields when you need to. This very useful, must-have attachment shines in the spring when you’d like to do a light aerating or turn dirt before seeding. It’s the best attachment if you’d like to plant vegetables or other crops because it helps you get beyond the grass and into the dirt quickly.
Choosing a tiller isn’t as simple as choosing other attachments. You need to know what you’ll be using it for and assess the type of land you have before you pick one, or you might be disappointed with its power and performance.
There are reverse-rotation and front-till tiller attachments, with the reverse-tilling models digging deeper into hard dirt than a forward-till model. Think of a reverse tiller as the attachment you’ll use to dig into untouched soil, while a forward till model is a helping hand if you’re tilling dirt that’s already been worked.
You’ll want to choose the right number of tines for your tractor, too, and most tractor manufacturers offer four- or six-tine tillers. Just keep in mind that your tractor will need more horsepower the more tines you add.
Tilling depth is also a consideration when choosing a tiller attachment, so if you know you have a layer of fine dirt over hard pack that’s 5 or 6 inches down, you’ll want a tiller attachment that can dig deeper than that.
Connecting Your Attachments
Tractor attachments won’t be helpful if you can’t switch them out easily. For that reason, many manufacturers offer something called quick hitch. Quick hitch gives you a fast way to hook up to all of your attachments, and with it installed on your tractor you won’t have to worry about pulling stuck pins or bolts to remove your attachments.
You’ll be able to line up your tractor, click in or out, and get to work.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2022 issue of Hobby Farms magazine.